Word: detente

Pronunciation: day-TAHNT

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the easing of hostility or strained relations, especially between countries

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


It’s been a great month for French and political vocabulary words, hasn’t it? Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past several months, you know that tomorrow is the day that one of the most highly contentious American presidential races in history finally draws to a close. Regardless of which candidate you support (or even if you never cared), I’m sure there’s one thing we can all agree on: it’ll be nice when the tension from this election season finally dissipates! Granted, that likely won’t happen until well after Election Day, but we can still dream of some sort of near-future “detente”, right?

“Detente” (also spelled “détente”) refers to the easing of strained relations or hostility, especially between nations. The word arose in English in the early 20th century and is originally a French noun, literally meaning “loosening” or “relaxation”. This noun stems from the Latin verb detendere, which means “to loosen” or “to relax”.

Naturally, the word “detente” first came to my attention recently while reading yet another political article, in this case about the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner that takes place in New York on the third Thursday of October and which U.S. presidential candidates have traditionally attended since 1960. Being a typical stop for the candidates during “debate season”, it makes sense that this event, treated as a roast, would serve as an outlet for easing some of the tension in the race. Note that “detente” is normally used in a political context, though I suppose it could be used in any reference to an alleviation of strained relationships. If you write political fiction heavy with tension between nations or parties, it may be worth throwing the occasional “detente” into your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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